So when should Christians pray? The Apostle Paul said we are to pray without ceasing. But first, most of us have found that we need a foundation for our prayer life, a specific time of day when we regularly meet with the Lord for nothing but prayer, or at least the reading of the Scripture in prayer. Often, the most ideal time is the morning. Jesus, Himself, prayed in the morning, as we see in Mark 1:35: “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” Jesus had been very busy the night before and was likely late getting to bed. And yet, He knew the importance of spending time with His heavenly Father.
We call our time alone with God quiet time. I usually go down into the family room or for a walk in the neighborhood. I read some Scripture, I review verses, and I pray.
Second, our prayers should be continuous throughout the day as various situations arise. When one of my staff comes in with a situation, what’s the first thing I should do? I should pray, “Lord, give me wisdom in knowing just how to handle this problem.” When I’m driving down the highway and I see a billboard that says, “Jesus died for your sins,” or words to this effect, instead of being skeptical, I should pray: “Lord, use the message on that billboard to speak to someone today.”
Every circumstance of our life should call forth prayer of some kind so that we involve God in every aspect of our lives because we are a people who have nothing and who without Him can do nothing.
Now, what should we say when we pray? What should we pray for? First of all, we should take time to worship God. The beginning of the Lord’s Prayer is “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” Jesus is suggesting in that short phrase that priority should be given to worshiping God. I start my quiet time by reviewing the glorious, infinite perfections of the most holy God, and I worship Him as I review those: God is holy. God is good. God is just. God is sovereign. He’s infinite in all these perfections.
Second, we should thank Him. Luke 17:17-18 tells the story of the 10 lepers who came to Jesus and asked to be healed. Nine of them were Jews and the other was a Samaritan.
After Jesus healed them, the Samaritan turned and went back to the Savior and fell at His feet and thanked Him. Jesus responded: “Weren’t there 10 cleansed?” God is very much aware of whether or not we return to give Him thanks. Remember to thank Him not only for answering specific prayers, but thank Him in general for all that He’s done for you.
Third is confession. 1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” J. Oswald Sanders said: “When I confess my sin to God, I am agreeing with Him in His judgment of its guilt and seriousness. I am viewing my sin from His perspective.”
Sin is not something we just run over lightly and claim 1 John 1:9. We must agree with God as to the guilt and seriousness of our sin. And David said in Psalm 32:5 that when we do this, God forgives the guilt of our sin, and we experience His forgiveness and His restoration.
The fourth thing is the actual asking. I would suggest that you study four of Paul’s prayers: Ephesians 1:15-23, Ephesians 3:14-21, Philippians 1:9-11, and Colossians 1:9-12. Then, on a piece of paper make four vertical columns, and put one of these references at the head of each. Then jot down in those four columns what Paul asked for in each of these prayers, and you will find what we are to ask for. Most of these things have to do with the spiritual growth of the people we are praying for.
Scripture records only two instances in Paul’s life when he prayed for physical things, and neither of those prayers were answered. In Romans 15:30-31, Paul asks the people to pray that he would be delivered from the wicked Jews in Jerusalem. And in 2 Corinthians 12, he prayed that his thorn in the flesh might be removed. God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
I am not suggesting that we not pray for physical things. But I am suggesting that our priority should be that people would grow spiritually in the Lord. In the Lord’s Prayer, there was only one request for physical needs, and that was: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Finally, I recommend you keep two prayer lists: one for permanent requests and one for temporary. In Ephesians 3:17-19, Paul prayed that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height–to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Is that prayer ever going to be completely answered? The more we experience the love of God, the more we see there is to experience. It’s like climbing a mountain range. You get to the top of one, and you look over and there’s another one. That prayer will never be completely answered until we are with God in glory. So that is a permanent prayer request.
You will find that you cannot get through the items on your permanent list every day, so you may have to break it up. I have an every day list, which includes my family and various other people and things, and I have separate lists for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In this way, I cover all that God has given me the responsibility to pray for, and for those opportunities that I want to be involved in.
What is the difference between the permanent and temporary lists? Our family gives to a mission that ministers to people in Russia and Eastern Europe. Once we got a letter from this mission asking for funds to provide 150,000 Bibles, legitimately, to Russia. So I put that on my temporary list. And that prayer was soon answered. But the mission, I pray for permanently.
In closing, let’s remember the two great purposes of prayer–that God would be glorified, and that our joy might be full. Through these applications, let’s commit our prayer life to Him anew. ©2013 Jerry Bridges
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Jerry Bridges has been a staff member with The Navigators for more than 50 years. He is the author of a dozen books, including “The Pursuit of Holiness” and “The Discipline of Grace.”